The Great Philadelphia Pizza Quest

Pizza is one of the most contentious foods in the world.

No, seriously. You want to start a fight with a foodie (and really, who doesn’t?), just tell them that their favorite brick-oven maestro cooks ten degrees under the required 900-degree inferno and watch the veins start to stand out on their necks. Or tell ’em that a real pepperoni pizza should be using meats gotten exclusively from Abruzze. Or that you know of some dumpy little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood joint that beats the pants off all comers and that you’ve sworn completely off the high-end Center City pies in favor of slices of cheese-and-nothin’ from Big Dino’s Pizza & Beer out in Conshy.

Pizza fanatics will argue over anything. Red or white? Coal oven or wood-fired? Straight mozz or a cheese blend? Like the Irish when whiskey, politics or religion is on the line, pizza freaks will imbue these relatively innocuous questions with the weight of Papal edicts and will not hesitate to take their debates out into the streets. I’m honestly surprised there haven’t been more pizza-related fire-bombings in this country. Or full-on streetcorner gang fights between supporters of the neighborhood Neapolitan shop and those backing the place that does tomato pies down the street.

And you know what? We’re glad that folks take their pizzas so seriously around here. Because honestly, there’s only one thing that we at Foobooz and Philadelphia magazine like better than a good, old-fashioned knock-around, and that’s being the last guys standing when the dust finally settles. We like knowing everything there is to know and arguing these points from a position of unassailable strength. Which is why, in anticipation of the food fight we know will be coming as soon as our newest issue hits the stands–the one in which we call out by name all the best pizzas in the region, regardless of style, location, price or setting–we decided to make good and goddamn sure we knew something about Philadelphia’s pizzas.

So we ate all of them.

Okay, maybe not all of them all of them. But certainly all of them that matter. And then a whole bunch more that matter only to the neighborhood folks who love them. Then even more that likely matter to no one at all but the people who are making them. And then capped things off by eating some that, apparently, even the cooks didn’t care about.

We ate hundreds of pizzas. And then when that wasn’t enough, we ate hundreds more. Some of them were good. Lots of them were very, very bad. We covered two states and several counties and so many neighborhoods that we lost count. After a while, this became one of those things where it almost felt like a game, like how far can we push this before we all just explode and die?

By the time we were done, we had eaten over a thousand pizzas and, out of all that bounty, had chosen the 50 best. The ones we knew were great because we’d eaten so many other mediocre ones and middle-of-the-road ones and terrible ones and horrifying ones and almost-but-not-quite-good ones to know exactly what “best” meant in terms of pizzas in the Philadelphia area in this day and at this time.

If you’re lucky and if you’re quick, you might be able to get an early copy of the issue that’s scheduled to hit the stands on Monday the 27th. They’re just starting to get out there now. And by Friday, we’ll have a whole gigantic website devoted to nothing but Philadelphia pizza with maps and a slideshow, searchable listings for more than 500 pizza joints stretching from Limerick to Haddonfield, a mobile app–everything you could possibly need to turn yourself into the most educated pizza ninja in the Delaware Valley.

Or, you know, just to find a good slice on a Friday night.